Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs” as Want to Read:
The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs

3.53  ·  Rating Details ·  337 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
The first-ever inside look at DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—the maverick and controversial group whose futuristic work has had amazing civilian and military applications, from the Internet to GPS to driverless cars

America's greatest idea factory isn't Bell Labs, Silicon Valley, or MIT's Media Lab. It's the secretive, Pentagon-led agency known as DARPA
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 20th 2009 by Smithsonian (first published 2009)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Department of Mad Scientists, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Department of Mad Scientists

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
G. Branden
Nov 15, 2009 G. Branden rated it did not like it
Recommended to G. Branden by: NPR
Shallow and uncritical.

Goodreads's prompt for review text includes the language "what I learned from this book"; my answer to that is "not nearly as much as I'd hoped".

This title is mostly gee-whiz science writing with nearly all of the content that would be interesting to a scientist or engineer elided and replaced with biographical profiles of DARPA program managers and directors. For variety, he includes you-are-there stories of how he cleverly obtained entré to DARPA principals--entirely on
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Jan 24, 2017 Meg - A Bookish Affair rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science, 2016
3.5 stars. "The Department of Mad Scientists" is the story about DARPA, which is an arm of the Department of Defense. DARPA has existed for a long time and has been sort of the research and development arm of the American military. Although it's part of DOD, a lot of the experiments and research and development that the group has done has helped to create some of the biggest technological advances the world has seen in the past few decades. Some of their projects have included the Internet and a ...more
Sarah Sammis
Jul 06, 2010 Sarah Sammis rated it liked it
I love to browse the new shelves of nonfiction books at my local library. One recent title that caught my attention because of it's goofy title was The Department of Mad Scientists by Michael Belfiore.

The book covers many of the recent advances by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, some which have made their way into civilian applications and others that are perhaps on the horizon. There are chapters on artificial limbs, the internet, GPS and driverless cars.

The chapter that made me p
Nov 12, 2011 Damian rated it did not like it
A book that SHOULD be a lot more interesting than it actually is, it's best passages concern the founding of the agency, its tumultuous early history and its role in the Information revolution. It quickly devolves, however, into a catalog of flashy demos, and features some strangely egocentric extended passages by the author (I'm so sorry it was difficult to contact the Darpa public relations office. Being a writer sounds hard.) Finally, while tele-surgery, artificial limbs and ramjets are inter ...more
Dec 29, 2009 Richard marked it as to-read-3rd
Recommended to Richard by: New York Times
Read the New York Times article: The Body Electric.
Dec 30, 2009 Dav rated it really liked it
Shelves: nook-format
I've always been aware of some of the DARPA history just from being aware of the beginnings of the ARPANET (now known as the Internet) and I knew they were into a lot of other interesting projects, but I have come away from this book with a lot more respect for the organization. Respect may be understating it, I think I'm in awe of how the federal government can manage to create something so amazing, and under the auspices of the Department of Defense no less. "DARPA is a national treasure".

Jan 11, 2010 Ken rated it really liked it
Shelves: technology
Belfiore provides a very fascinating overview of DARPA to include "case studies" on some of their current projects and a deep dive into their culture; which I'd sum up as "imagine the impossible and prove it is possible - fast." The chapters I enjoyed the most were the requisite story of how DARPA "built" the Internet (which was just amazing to read about in detail), the TraumaPod, and the goal to build the perfect prosthetic limb. As you read this book though you can't help but have a tinge of ...more
Aug 27, 2010 Tom rated it it was ok
The topic was excellent and overdue. The treatment, I thought was rather sophomoric and spent time on superficial aspects. Written by a Wired magazine journalist, it is about the same quality of writing - a quick flight over a State, but never enough to really see the State, much less interact with the State understand what it really has and is.
Aug 06, 2015 Glenn rated it really liked it
The author had previously written "Rocketeers", about the roots and rise of the commercial rocket industry. The discovery that DARPA was a major customer for one of these companies (XCOR) led him to research resulting in "The Department of Mad Scientists". Besides the obvious, the book covers Belfiore's strategies and struggles to gain access to DARPA personnel for interviews -- as well as his eventual partial success. I use the word "partial" because many of DARPA's projects require Top Secret ...more
Jan 25, 2010 Sylvia rated it really liked it
A well-told story of a little known government agency that has had and is likely to continue to have an important impact on the world and how we live. I think many of us are aware that DARPA was responsible for bringing the Internet into being, but they are doing so much more.

I grieved when Bell Labs was sold with Lucent to the French firm Alcatel. I've been frustrated in my dealings on behalf start-ups with IBM's Watson Labs, with their bureaucracy and "Not invented here" attitude. It was surp
Jun 12, 2010 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I selected this book based on the sub-title ("How DARPA is Remaking Our World..."), not because I had read the author's previous book, "Rocketeers". In general it was well-written and researched. I am not sure if it is because Belfiore writes mostly for shorter media (blogs, articles, and so on), but I found the book to be a bit "breezy" and a quick read: not quite as "meaty" as I would have hoped for.

But, the subject matter (i.e. the projects he reports on and the organization itself) are both
Feb 10, 2016 Mark rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, mondo-spybot
Two stars, and not because it is badly written, but because it was obviously written as blatant propaganda, a "recruitment tool" in the words of the DARPA head. Like all things bellicose and nationalistic, the DARPA functions as a primary beneficiary and functionary of "American exceptionalism." Yes, they are at the cutting edge of science, but science pinned to perversity as a means of better fighting the next war (not, of course, preventing the next war, but assuring that in any outcome, the g ...more
Tobin Elliott
Jul 16, 2016 Tobin Elliott rated it liked it
This is a frustrating book.

On one hand, it talks about some of the coolest innovations coming down the pipe from an agency that's made its reputation on cool innovations, such as GPS and the internet. I found myself excited as hell as the author walked us through--at a very high, undetailed level--things like artificial limbs, on-site operating robots, self-driving cars, and fossil fuel replacements, to name a few. It's fascinating to find out someone is turning this science fiction stuff into r
Jan 06, 2013 Greg rated it really liked it
An inside look into DARPA, specifically following some of the agencies more successful projects. The book discusses the origins of DARPA - basically after WWII, there was a lot of power grabbing to see who would develop America's space program. The forerunner as DARPA temporarily took on this challenge. One of the reasons it was able to find the day of light was that it was specifically structured as a government research agency leveraging the free market, which appealed to Eisenhower. After NAS ...more
Theresa Liao
Sep 05, 2011 Theresa Liao rated it it was ok
While I enjoyed the beginning of the book when the author talked about the past projects done by DARPA, the rest of the book did not seem exactly coherent. While I understand the nature of projects in research and industry, the authors introduced too many personnels and the story was lost (I spent most of the time trying to remember who does what project). Some of the projects mentioned were also not exactly ahead of the curve anymore. As for the idea of DARPA itself, it is troubling to see that ...more
Troy Blackford
May 08, 2014 Troy Blackford rated it really liked it
This was an interesting and rare look at DARPA, the governmental arm where research leads to new discoveries. They are really secretive, so this examination of some of their recent, unclassified projects is a rare thing. We get to learn about biomechanical prosthetic technology for the injured, automated medical treatment, self-driving cars, and multiple-times-faster-than-the-speed-of-sound scramjets. In between the cracks of these stories, we learn about the history of the DARPA organization. A ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Ninakix rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-2010
This book was definitely a geeky pleasure for me. I read it and just enjoyed hearing about all these crazy technologies that were being developed, which was awesome. I was particularly excited to read about the autonomous car program, because for most of my five years at Stanford, I walked past those autonomous cars sitting outside the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory everyday (some of these cars are now being worked on at Google) (also, it makes the grad students "driving" the cars re ...more
Feb 22, 2013 Paul rated it liked it
A good read on the true history of DARPA and introduces some very interesting people and projects. It makes one appreciate just how unlikely it's establishment was, and therefore just how much of a fortunate 'accident' the world-changing results of its work have been.

However, I felt this could have been a much better book if it actually delved deeper into the science and technologies. Perhaps showing the authors bias (a journalist), every time the narrative came close to getting into fascinating
Kristin Lieber
Jul 03, 2012 Kristin Lieber rated it liked it
The story of DARPA, a defense agency created out of the space race, tries to keep the USA at technologies cutting edge. This book is a collection of what feel like long essays about different aspects and people of DARPA. What bothered me about this book was a lack of critique of spending and programs. Every program is grand and for the greater good. The research continues mutually assured destruction. DARPA researches a weapon, someone develops a defense, DARPA develops a defense, someone create ...more
May 04, 2011 Jonas rated it liked it
Very intriguing portrait of the beginning of NASA, the internet, Cold War arms build up and more.

Would I recommend this to a friend?

For sure. If you like to read Wired Magazine or Engadget on the web you'll likely dig this. Very cool in terms of history of the space program in US and how the space race led to huge government investment in technology research leading to among other things, the Internet as we know it today! Chapters on artificial limbs blew me away also. The nice thing about thi
Jul 03, 2012 Kristin rated it liked it
The story of DARPA, a defense agency created out of the space race, tries to keep the USA at technologies cutting edge. This book is a collection of what feel like long essays about different aspects and people of DARPA. What bothered me about this book was a lack of critique of spending and programs. Every program is grand and for the greater good. The research continues mutually assured destruction. DARPA researches a weapon, someone develops a defense, DARPA develops a defense, someone create ...more
Nov 15, 2010 Nola rated it it was ok
Of course, there are a lot of acronyms in this book - so many that they're hard to remember even after they're written out. Plus a lot of people to keep straight...The way that DARPA is run is interesting. I wouldn't know if the management style makes it better at what it does than other organizations are, but according to this book, it has a lot of accomplishments. I think those accomplishments could have been gone through at less length, and an organization chart for DARPA would have been help ...more
Kevin Moore
Aug 30, 2012 Kevin Moore rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a fantastic look at a government organization that has been responsible for creating some of the technologies that now shape our everyday lives like GPS and the Internet. It also provides insight into some of the projects currently underway such as self-driving cars and hypersonic jets and into what the world of tomorrow might look like. Well written, easy to follow, and incredibly interesting I couldn't put this book down.
Jan 07, 2010 Jill is currently reading it
I will update my review when I am done, but this book is really, really fascinating. It is about the history and projects done at DARPA. This is a little known government agency in the defense department where scientists and engineers can come do very futuristic projects with no red tape. It has been very eye opening to see just how much of our modern technology has come out of this department. It is well written and very engaging. I highly recommend it.
D.m. Grace
Apr 11, 2012 D.m. Grace rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating read about DARPA and how they have shaped our lives, without us even knowing it. It's interesting and a little disconcerting to see how much of our everyday technology has roots in military technology.

If you're interested in where technology is invented and the processes that happen behind closed doors, this is a highly recommended read.
May 03, 2011 Peter rated it really liked it
The story of Darpa told through a look at several important projects over the years, including the development of prosthetics, DarpaNet, the predecessor of the Internet, diverless robotic vehicles, hypersonic transport vehicles, and alternative energy development projects. A fascinating and inspiring story.
Jul 07, 2012 Fiona rated it really liked it
I have bought this book twice both times as presents for guys with a tech bent. Overall good book reads like separate magazine length stories in the sections which describe the different projects which was appreciated by the two readers who got this as a gift. I found it a little rah rah america but I suppose that is to be expected given the subject matter.
Jack Vinson
This book has some interesting anecdotes about rejects from DARPA, but the whole thing can be summarized with, "They fund projects that no one else can or will." Oh, and the author had never heard of DARPA before. There was a little too much about how great the author was at getting through the secrecy walls.

As an engineer, DARPA would be a really cool place to work.
Jul 25, 2011 Martin added it
What an amazing topic and series of subjects this book discusses. The chapter on battlefield Trauma Pods blew my mind with the possibilities. Probem is, it's incredibly, depressingly dully narrated. The writer wrote a total of two sentences that could be considered jokes. Hey bud, loosen up a little! In more energetic hands, this could have been a masterpiece, instead it's only a quite good book.
J Scott Shipman
Jan 14, 2013 J Scott Shipman rated it liked it
The first half is quickly paced and mostly well-done. The second half seemed to run out of steam. Still, Belfiore deserves credit for shining light on an organization that provides a pretty consistent high ROI for a government agency.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses and Historians.
  • Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
  • Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power
  • The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite
  • 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos
  • "Live from Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
  • The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey
  • The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance
  • To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
  • Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy
  • Stealing God's Thunder: Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod and the Invention of America
  • The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist
  • Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
  • Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City
  • Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the world he made up
  • Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character
  • 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century
  • Software Takes Command
Michael Belfiore is an author, journalist, and speaker on the innovations shaping our world. He has written about game-changing technologies for the New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian, Air & Space, Financial Times, and other outlets. He is an International Aerospace Journalist of the Year Award finalist.

Michael has appeared as a commentator on the Fox Business Netw
More about Michael Belfiore...

Share This Book